You might think that it’s a pretty good time to be a cosmetic surgeon in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other media-dominated areas. And you would be right. With growing acceptance of cosmetic surgery as a valid choice for many, and more tools and techniques available to deliver great results, many cosmetic surgeons have been able to establish and grow thriving practices.
But the news isn’t all good for those of us in the industry. These days, plastic surgeons consult with prospective patients who have ideas that don’t always make sense. Some people think a cosmetic procedure will help them keep a boyfriend or ensure they land a great job. Others want lips like Angelina Jolie’s or a nose exactly like Kate Middleton’s. As a practice with a leading cosmetic surgeon in New York, there’s another patient desire we’re increasingly dealing with: perfection.
Perfection and Cosmetic Surgery
Since we sometimes feel pressure to create perfect results for our patients, we were very interested to read an article on perfectionism by a pair of researchers in the U.K. last month. Their study, published the Psychological Bulletin, a publication of the American Psychological Association, confirms a growing trend of perfectionism in Western culture. By studying the responses of thousands of college students over time to a test called the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, the scientists found that today’s young adults are more demanding and critical of themselves and others than ever before. Read more about this research here.
This drive for perfection can contribute to a number of troubling traits, from materialism to narcissism. When directed at the body, it can manifest in eating disorders and body dysmorphia, suggest the U.K. team. In our practice in Manhattan, we find it can contribute to unrealistic goals. We make sure to talk with each man and woman we work with about a “much better” appearance rather than “perfection.” But we find that occasionally the perfectionist mindset still prevents patients from feeling satisfied with what we judge to be a very good result.
The Role of Symmetry
One aspect of cosmetic surgery that can be challenging for patients to come to grips with is that of symmetry. While it’s true that a symmetrical appearance is highly valued in our society, it’s also true that no one’s body is exactly the same on both sides. Think about it—aren’t your feet slightly different sizes? How about your fingers; if you wear rings, is the fit the same on both hands?
Here are some other places that are notoriously asymmetrical:
Breasts: It is quite unusual for both male and female breasts to be nearly identical. (We often say breasts are siblings, not twins!) Most breasts are slightly different sizes; some are markedly different. Nipple size, shape and position can differ as well. Other factors come into play when it comes to chest appearance, including the size and shape of the rib cage.
When we perform breast augmentation, breast lift and breast reduction for men and women, we do our best to adjust asymmetries created by Mother Nature. But patients need to understand that there may be limitations as to what we can achieve and that slight differences are completely normal.
Eyes: Most people have visible differences in the eye area, including brow position, eye position, eye size and more. Again, we do all we can to create a symmetrical eye appearance when we perform brow lifts, eyelid lifts and other procedures in the area. But it’s ironic that some patients who were not symmetrical prior to surgery expect perfectly identical eyes afterward.
Cosmetic Surgery and Scar Tissue
We do our best to make sure patients understand that post-op scarring is at least somewhat unpredictable. Most people electing facial plastic surgery are not bothered by scars after healing, as incisions for eyelid surgery, facelifts and so on are well hidden. Sometimes knobby scar tissue can develop underneath the skin following breast surgery and body contouring, and occasionally the skin heals with a scar that’s more dramatic than expected.
There are minor procedures we can perform to improve most troublesome scarring, and we are glad to do this when we believe it’s worthwhile. But patients do need to acknowledge that the body controls scarring, not us, and there’s no way to perform cosmetic surgery without scars.
Perfection and Plastic Surgery: the Challenge
After thirty years in practice, we understand that patients have hopes and dreams when they walk through our door. When we agree to work with a man or woman, we are confident in our ability to help them achieve realistic goals for their appearance, thereby improving their confidence, self-image and enjoyment of life. We will never claim we deliver perfection.
In fact, if you’re in the market for a New York cosmetic surgeon and you find one who uses the word “perfect” in any way, we suggest you make a quick exit!